An interview with the producers

Interview with Trudi Brown, WHYY executive producer, and Glenn Holsten, producer of The Barnes Collection and a former WHYY staff producer who produced the 2002 PBS documentary Thomas Eakins: Scenes from Modern Life.

Can you explain your process for developing the script for The Barnes Collection?

Holsten: My first step, with the guidance of the Barnes Foundation's curators and archivists, was to sift through Dr. Barnes' amazing correspondence — a remarkable cache of information that sheds light on his collection, his educational goals for the foundation. The letters also paint a portrait of his personal relationships with other collectors, dealers and colleagues as well as shed light on his personal thoughts about life and art.


Can you describe the process of completing such a resource-intensive, deadline-oriented project and compare it with work on WHYY-TV series such as On Canvas and Friday Arts?

Brown: A national PBS documentary is a unique project and takes on more resources to complete than a weekly ongoing local program. Ongoing programs have definite formats and, once established, the task of the production team is to maintain quality and fine-tune the storytelling. For the Barnes project, you start from the beginning with developing the content, creating a style unique to the story you will tell, and spend much time coordinating visual and other documentary enhancements. For The Barnes Collection project, the deadline before us is quickly approaching, and if I may use this as an analogy: It will take a village to raise this child. The village will be made up of just about every department at WHYY who will support this exciting effort.


Can you explain any unusual technical effects in the filming process and describe how the artwork will be presented?

Holsten: The documentary is a hybrid that mixes contemporary documentary footage of the project architects and current Barnes staff with a technical manipulation of many archival sources -- letters, receipts, photos. My hope is that the cumulative effect will be a deep understanding of the "where" and "why" and "how" the collection was gathered with an appreciation for the care that the current group of individuals in charge of the collection is taking to make sure it exists for future generations. I also want to show how the process of the design of the new building on the Parkway takes into consideration the special needs of this collection.


Can you describe your use of Dr. Barnes' letters rather than a narrator in the flow of the documentary?

Holsten: Dr. Barnes was a fine writer who wrote when he was happy, when he was upset, when he was curious and when he was searching ... searching for answers about art and life. I am particularly interested in the "searching" Dr. Barnes. Many books and films to date paint an incomplete portrait of the man — an older, cranky curmudgeon. While he did possess those qualities, his writings reveal another side, a man who wrestles with the art in his collection, a man who is intensely interested in how art can improve the quality of life for people.


What will the interviews with the key players — Barnes Foundation president and executive director, architects, landscape architect, lighting designer — reveal?

Holsten: I think the contemporary story will reveal people deeply interested in creating a great building for Philadelphia that will house a fantastic collection. Not only the design of the building, but the shaping of the light inside the building, which is a tremendous part of any viewing experience. Viewers will experience a collection from history that lives vibrantly in 2012 — through the new gallery spaces, the education program and restoration efforts.


What will viewers nationwide take away from the documentary and Philadelphia as an arts and culture treasure?

Brown: This is a landmark documentary. For the first time, public television viewers will be able to view some of the most celebrated art in the entire world. The story of Albert C. Barnes and his rise to the top of the art world is legendary, a fascinating tale of love and passion. The Barnes Foundation's move from Merion where the art was not always accessible to a general public to its new home in Central Philadelphia will surely strengthen the assertion that Philadelphia's arts assets help to define the city as an arts and culture treasure. Who better to tell this story to the nation than WHYY?


What stands out the most in your research of Dr. Barnes and his collection? Is there a single story that encapsulates the man and the works he collected and arranged?

Holsten: I like to say that Dr. Barnes is a question mark of a man, and while this show will not answer all the questions, hopefully this portrait of the man and the collection will reveal more sides of the complex human being that have been shared with the public to date. I will be very happy if people understand not only his motivation for collecting, but his ideas about art and education. His "ensembles" — the way artworks and furniture are arranged for viewing — are a kind of puzzle, and by sifting through them, his life and the thoughtful approach of the current Barnes Foundation team, my hope is that new dimensions of Dr. Barnes will be presented for people to consider. Besides, the works are fantastic.


Photographs of Dr. Barnes courtesy of Photograph Collection, Barnes Foundation Archives.
Barnes Foundation on the Parkway images (c) 2012 Barnes Foundation.